Is fish oil the wonder supplement of the 21st century? Recently, my doctor recommended that I take it because of my family history of heart disease. He also touted it as a mood elevator. My eye doctor told me it's good for eyesight.
Could it all be true? A super heart, a sunny attitude, plus sharp vision — all from taking fish oil?
According to Rick Chester of Medicap Pharmacy in Talent, fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential to human health, but the body does not produce them. So we must get omega-3s through food, particularly cold-water, fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring, explains Chester, a naturopathic physician and registered dietician, as well as a pharmacist.
Americans are not the prolific fish eaters that, say, the Mediterranean or Scandinavian people are. So supplementing our diet with fish-oil pills is a good way to avoid an omega-3 deficiency. Other sources of these fatty acids include certain green vegetables, nuts and flaxseed.
Chester calls DHA "a real important fat for the brain," supporting my doctor's claim that fish oil can perk up one's mood.
Also, Chester confidently recommends fish oil for reducing inflammation throughout the body. Definitely use it, then, for treating rheumatoid arthritis, he says.
Fish oil also can lower the risk of heart disease, he says, because "a lot of heart diseases are due to inflammation in the lining of the arteries."
Furthermore, research has consistently found that omega-3 fatty acids can tame high blood pressure and high triglycerides, he says.
It is generally believed that EPA and DHA can help prevent such eye diseases as macular degeneration and glaucoma, but the research has been inconclusive, he says.
People who supplement with fish oil typically take about 500 milligrams a day, notes Elaine Deckelman, Health and Beauty Manager at Ashland Food Co-op, adding that "it's safe to take more."
What about those reports suggesting that fish oil supplementation may increase LDL, or "bad," cholesterol levels?
"The jury is still out on that," says Deckelman, who takes 2,000 milligrams daily.
Like Chester, she believes that omega-3s are "good for the brain on so many levels," citing their effectiveness in enhancing mood and combating Attention Deficit Disorder. She, too, highly recommends fish oil for joint flexibility and as a heart protector.
In sorting through the choices of fish oil available at most pharmacies and health food stores, consumers should keep potency and purity in mind, as well as price.
At Medicap, a 120-capsule bottle of Vital Nutrients: Ultra Pure Fish Oil sells for $30.99 — double the price of a 120-capsule bottle of Carlson: The Very Finest Norwegian Fish Oil ($14.99). However, with EPA and DHA counts of 360 milligrams and 240 milligrams, respectively, a single capsule of Vital Nutrients packs more than twice the punch of a single Carlson pill, which contains 160 milligrams and 100 milligrams.
Bargain hunters might think they are getting a real steal when they see that Nature's Blend Omega-3 Fish Oil is going for $7.89. But that's for a 60-capsule bottle at 180 and 120 milligrams per pop.
Also, while the label on the Nature's Blend does promise "No Fish Burps," it does not state whether the product has been tested for purity. The Vital Nutrients and Carlson labels, on the other hand, do declare that these products have tested negative for detectable levels of mercury, lead and other contaminants that fish absorb.
Does this mean that the Nature's Blend fish oil has not been purified and contains contaminates? Not necessarily, says Chester. Perhaps the company simply has not gone to the expense of paying the FDA to test its product, he says.
Chester points out that some brands offer flavored capsules, which make them more palatable to children. That's a good thing.
"Children should take fish oil early on so that they produce good nerve transmission," he says.
Wonder supplement of the 21st century? It just might be.